Disabilities

F.B.I. Agents Faced Arrest and Ruin After Trying to Conceive a Child

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“At every step, I’ve been waiting for the light bulb at the F.B.I. to turn on and realize this was just a mistake and make everything right,” Mr. Litton, 46, said recently during an interview. The F.B.I. declined to comment.

Mr. Litton met his future wife, Katia, around 1998 while he was stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. She had worked at a local television station near the Army post, and the two fell in love. They tried to have children but without success.

Mr. Litton knew it would be difficult. Since the early 1990s, he had periodically seen blood in his urine and semen, and he had received a diagnosis of sterility from Army doctors in 1997. He joined the F.B.I. in 2001 and hoped that a job with more stability would allow him time to deal with his infertility, but after the Sept. 11 attacks, he was recalled to active duty, leading a seven-man Army Special Forces team in Afghanistan.

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Mr. Litton led an Army Special Forces team in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks.

He returned to the United States in late 2003, and the following year a physician concluded that he might have a condition known as hypogonadotropic hypogonadism. He learned that a side effect of his sterility was low hormone levels. Essentially, Mr. Litton said, he had the hormone levels of a 70-year-old man.

Mr. Litton believes that his repeated exposure to explosive blasts while in the Army and the F.B.I. induced the sterility. Brain injuries can cause the pituitary gland to stop producing sufficient levels of hormones, medical studies have found. In 2006, a doctor said that his low hormone levels were a side effect of a “pituitary disorder/disease.”

In addition, Mr. Litton’s wife had a thyroid disorder. Together, they sought treatment, and by searching online found a doctor in Michigan who could help them. Their insurance, provided by the F.B.I., paid for the hormone treatment. His consisted of testosterone, human growth hormone and other drugs, and his sperm count improved dramatically.

“My wife and I had given up and were planning on adopting,” Mr. Litton wrote to his doctor in 2006. “Your treatment has apparently fixed whatever that was broken because my numbers are through the roof.”

Ms. Litton joined the F.B.I. after applying in 2003. The couple did not note on standard bureau medical forms that they had taken the drugs for his infertility and her thyroid disorder. The couple did not view it as relevant to their work — they were simply trying to have a baby.

But their insurance company had started to dig into the billing practices of the doctor prescribing the drugs and found them questionable. The company referred the findings to the F.B.I. The doctor has said the prescriptions were legitimate.

Mr. Litton and his wife were two of four bureau employees seeing the doctor, and federal agents arrested all of them in September 2010, saying they had lied about their steroid use.

By then, Mr. Litton was a veteran of the Hostage Rescue Team and multiple deployments to Iraq, and his wife was a counterintelligence agent in the bureau’s Washington field office. They were charged with making false statements, and both were suspended without pay. They had to halt the in vitro fertilization treatment they had scheduled for the following month. Instead, the $50,000 they had saved was used to pay lawyers.

The same month as Mr. Litton’s arrest, the F.B.I. completed his performance review. He received an excellent rating, and his superiors wrote that he had represented the F.B.I. and the rescue team in an “exemplary manner” and “maintains high standards of professionalism.”

Neither of the Littons worked for more than 500 days while they were suspended without pay. Eventually, the criminal case against them fell apart, and prosecutors dropped the charges in November 2010 and later declined to refile them.

They returned to work in February 2012, but their ordeal was not over. The Justice Department’s inspector general was continuing a separate inquiry, and in February 2014, the F.B.I. notified both of the Littons that the government intended to fire them.

They had, the F.B.I. said, provided false or misleading information on the medical forms and exhibited a lack of candor during the internal inquiry. Investigators also concluded that fertility problems were not the only reason Mr. Litton had started taking the drugs. Emails indicated that he might have been using them to improve his performance on the rescue team, which Mr. Litton denies.

They were again suspended without pay. And that September, the couple were finally fired.

The decision infuriated Mr. Litton’s lawyer, Kristin D. Alden, whose firm specializes in representing federal employees. “Medical records show he was dealing with infertility issues as far back as 2001,” she said. “We gave it to the F.B.I. before he was fired. It didn’t matter.”

By that time, Katia Litton was carrying the couple’s first child, going through a high-risk pregnancy because of her age and miscarriages. Ms. Alden implored the F.B.I. not to cancel her health insurance. “They didn’t care,” she said. In January 2015, Ms. Litton gave birth to a daughter.

The Littons were desperate and broke, facing staggering legal fees. They had already cashed out their retirement plans months earlier for money to live on.

“We had no income,” Mr. Litton said. They scraped by, relying on money borrowed from relatives and the support of friends on the Hostage Rescue Team. Mr. Litton said they were at the “end of their rope.”

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By the time he was initially suspended in 2010, Mr. Litton was a veteran of the Hostage Rescue Team and multiple deployments to Iraq, and his wife, Katia, was a counterintelligence agent in the F.B.I.’s Washington field office. Credit Justin Gilliland for The New York Times

But then, a ruling came down in the Littons’ favor. In May 2016, the F.B.I.’s disciplinary board determined that Ms. Litton could return to work. She accepted a 20-day suspension, and was reinstated in March. It took months for her to regain her security clearance.

For his part, Mr. Litton had appealed to what is known as the Merit Systems Protection Board, which provides federal employees with “an opportunity to appeal adverse and unfair personnel decisions,” according to its website. Most F.B.I. employees do not qualify for the right to appeal to the board, but Mr. Litton’s veteran status made him eligible.

The hearing was scheduled for January. Over three days, Mr. Litton endured hours of intense questioning by both F.B.I. lawyers and his own. At one point, his own lawyer asked Mr. Litton why he had failed to detail his prescriptions on the medical forms. Was he trying to hide them from the F.B.I.?

“No,” Mr. Litton said. “I just considered it my private information.”

He continued: “Because it has to do with sperm and semen and my wife’s uterus and, you know, hopefully nobody ever has to go through it, but failed pregnancies, miscarriages — you don’t want to have to talk about that stuff.”

After the hearing, the couple waited months for a ruling from the judge. They celebrated the birth of their second child, a girl, in July. Then another gift arrived.

In September, the judge ruled that Mr. Litton had a disability — his sterility — and that he did not need to disclose the treatments. The judge said the F.B.I.’s use of the medical form violated the Americans With Disabilities Act. The judge also said Mr. Litton was telling the truth when he said the sole reason for seeking the drugs was to treat his condition.

There are still hurdles ahead. Ms. Litton is owed substantial back pay. It is not clear whether Mr. Litton will ever be able to return to the F.B.I. The appeals process could drag on for years.

Nevertheless, Mr. Litton, who is eligible to retire in three years, hopes his ordeal will end at some point. He wants to go back to work on the Hostage Rescue Team, which undertakes some of the F.B.I.’s most dangerous missions, both in the United States and abroad, and works closely with the military.

“I love being an operator,” he said. “I miss the team.”

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Wendy Pettit

Wendy Pettit is a writer for NYT and writes for other publications on her spare time. She lives in Chicago with her husband and her dog Zuko.

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